Will There Be Immigration Reform in 2014?
It’s a challenge to provide a timely update on federal immigration reform, as there are new developments on a daily basis. But one thing that is certain…there is considerable public pressure on the Administration and Congress to stop talking about it and get something done. In fact, a recent Gallup poll found that Americans now assign about equal importance to the two major aspects of immigration reform being debated in Washington. Forty-four percent say it is extremely important for the U.S. to develop a plan to deal with the large number of immigrants already living in the United States, and 43% say it's extremely important to halt the flow of illegal immigrants into the country by securing the borders. This is a shift from the past, when Americans were consistently more likely to rate border security as extremely important.
Here are some of the latest developments:
- The Senate passed its version of a comprehensive immigration reform bill last year, but the House leadership responded by saying they would deal with the issue in multiple bills rather than an omnibus reform package. They have said their approach will not be a big “1,000-page bill’, but rather it will take a sequencing approach. Both Democrats and Republicans in the House have been working on separate versions of reform bills for several months, and in late January, the House GOP unveiled its immigration reform principles.
- Some business groups have said there is much to like in the House Republican’s list, including this from Tom Donohue, president & CEO of the U.S. Chamber, “This is a very encouraging sign that House lawmakers are serious about fixing our broken immigration system.” (More on the U.S. Chamber and immigration reform below.)
- Mary Ann Miller, CEO of the Tempe, AZ Chamber wrote a guest commentary in her local newspaper “Republican Standards for Immigration Reform Would Benefit Business” praising the Republican standards.
- But national Tea Party Groups continue to oppose proposed immigration reforms calling on their Congressional members to address other, more pressing issues such as the debt ceiling, the deficit and tax reform first.
- Despite House Speaker John Boehner’s comments in February that the House Republicans didn’t trust Obama enough on border security issues to pass immigration reform, the Speaker now seems to be more committed to passing something. Following a meeting with President Obama earlier this month, he said, “We agree immigration reform is a priority. He wants to get it done. I want to get it done. But he’s going to have to help us in this process.” He declined to say what Obama could do to win the GOP’s trust on the issue.
- The sticking point for House Republicans is amnesty. Boehner told the Cincinnati Enquirer that he believes any reform package needs to include a pathway to citizenship for illegals but that doesn’t mean amnesty. Boehner added, “Some want to call it amnesty, but I reject that premise…if you come in and plead guilty and pay a fine, that’s not amnesty.”
However, Republican Senators Ted Cruz (TX) and Jeff Sessions (AL) contend that previous immigration ideas pushed by the House leadership that allow for illegals to obtain U.S. citizenship are indeed amnesty plans. Mr. Sessions distributed a “Myth vs. Fact” document to counter what he called GOP leadership spin on immigration reform. The document claims “any plan that provides special privileges to those who are in the country today but does not extend the same privileges to those coming into the country illegally tomorrow is amnesty.”
- Meanwhile, House Democrats have said they plan to launch an official petition drive to force the Republican majority to vote on the Democratic version of an immigration bill…as soon as they get finished forcing a vote on a minimum-wage increase. The maneuver known as a ‘discharge petition’ is a way for the minority party in the House on its priorities. If they are able to get signatures from the majority of the members of Congress, the House leadership has to bring up the legislation.
The Democratic immigration reform bill, which is similar to the bill passed by the Senate, has 192 Democratic sponsors, but just three Republican sponsors, making it questionable whether they will be able to reach the 218 needed to succeed in their petition drive. Republicans dismissed the discharge effort, saying House Democrats won’t be able to get enough support to force the issue. “This scheme has zero chance of success — a clear majority in the House understands that the massive Senate-passed bill is deeply flawed,” said Michael Steel, spokesman for Boehner.
- While Congress continues to bicker, President Obama tweeted that he is the ‘champion in chief for comprehensive immigration reform.’ But it would seem he comes under fire on his executive immigration policies from both sides.
- Activists point to the administration’s record-setting level of deportations. The President has been under fire for years over the Homeland Security Department’s informal quota of trying to deport about 400,000 immigrants every year. Republican opponents accuse him of inflating the numbers, while immigration rights advocates say the number is too high.
- On the other side of the coin, a recent audit conducted by the Homeland Security Department’s inspector general, found that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement regularly cuts a break for businesses that violate immigration hiring 40 percent from what they should be and that the government should be doing more to go after unscrupulous employers.
- Finally, the U.S. Chamber has said it will use all of its influence to persuade Congress to pass immigration reform in 2014. “Rewriting the immigration law won’t be any easier in 2016 or 2018, so the GOP should take the plunge now. There will never be a perfect time for reform….The fact remains it is in our national interest to get it done,” said Donohue in his annual speech on the state of American business. Click here to see a transcript of his comments.